MANILA, Philippines – Kamir, Sarip and Akir are among the Maranaw contingents who joined this year’s Lakbayan of National Minorities.
They asked for anonymity as they narrated the difficulties they had gone through when they passed the strings of checkpoints from various evacuation centers in Saguiaran in and Balo-i in Lanao del Sur province.
“It’s really difficult to go out from our areas now,” said Akir, the youngest of the three, adding that military and police at checkpoints are very particular to the Moros when asking for identities.
He said the military and police in checkpoints would always say: “It’s martial law and we need to check if some of you are terrorists.”
For Akir, such as statements made by state forces are forms of discrimination, instigating fear and a kind of branding against the Moro people that has since caused the lives of innocents and the arrests of some of their families and kin.
Despite the difficulties in travelling, Kamir said they need to proceed with the Lakbayan to tell their stories – narratives that matter to the lives of the people of Marawi.
“There is no other venue where we can tell the Filipino people what is really happening in Marawi and to us, the real victims of this war,” Kamir added.
He said their house in Banggolo area was completely ruined by airstrikes, so as the houses of his relatives and friends.
Livelihoods were lost, the education of their children hampered and the possibility of rebuilding their lives is still bleak despite the promises mouthed by the government, he added.
“The declaration of martial law and the option of the Duterte government to unleash its military might against the Maute group are not the right approaches,” said Sarip.
The results on the ground are so clear, he added, and the burden is too much for the Maranaw people who are now facing uncertainties in their lives.
The three also raised the possibility the people of Marawi will be blocked to go back to their areas and communities.
“In the evacuation centers, stories about the great portion of the area in Marawi are owned by the government, particularly the military now sweep. Some cried upon knowing this. For me, if ever this is true, then I will resist. Marawi belongs to the Maranaw people,” Kamir said.
Islamophobia is real
The experiences of Kamir, Sarip and Akir are typical of the intensified Islamophobia that the US continues to utilize against the Moro people in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao.
Jerome Succor Aba, the vice chairperson of Sandugo, a nationwide alliance of Lumad and Moro organizations in the country described “Islamophobia” as the fear of Muslims. He said it is incorporated within the decade-long global war on terror of the US that is also being espoused by the Duterte government.
Sandugo led an education forum on Islamophobia inside the Kampuhan of Lakbayan delegates at the UP Diliman in Quezon City on Sunday, September 10.
Among the speakers at the said forum was Professor Roland Simbulan of the University of the Philippines – Manila who described Islamophobia as a cultural weapon the US employs to poison the concepts of the Filipinos against the Moro people.
Simbulan said Islamophobia has been used by the Philippine colonizers to destroy the Moro people, from the time of the Spaniards and the Americans who continue to use the same in its war on terror.
“The Moro people in Mindanao, including some Lumad communities, resisted against the colonization of the Spaniards and later against the Americans,” Simbulan said.
Islamophobia and the message it brought by describing the Moros as “bad people” also served as a “divide and rule” measure that the Spaniards and now the Americans use to completely defeat the Moro people, he added.
Simbulan also took note of the creation of the Moro Constabulary that was utilized to fight the Moro resistance in Mindanao.
“The activation of this constabulary group also heightened Islamophobia in Mindanao. The US recruited people from the Visayas and Luzon to join the constabulary and fight the Moro people,” he said.
Since then, he added, the Philippines, especially Mindanao, has been regarded by the US as its laboratory on anti-insurgency and anti-terrorism campaigns.
After the infamous 9-11 attack, Simbulan said the US also used the Philippines as its second front on the global war on terrorism.
The US deployed special operations forces in the country, around 600 soldiers Simbulan estimated, who were deployed in the areas of Zamboanga, Jolo, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and other parts of Mindanao.
The US forces also created a sort of “block sites”, Simbulan said, inside the military camps in Mindanao where Moros suspected as terrorists are being investigated, interrogated and worst, tortured.
The worries presented by Kamir, Sarip and Akir are also the fears and concerns that Aida Ibrahim of Tindeg Ranao and Aba of Sandugo face nowadays.
“First, we thought the war will only last for days or a week. The Mautes are only in small number compared to the forces of the government. But now we realize that it is going into something else,” Ibrahim told the participants into last Sunday’s forum on Islamophobia.
She said more than 400 thousand Maranaw and other residents from Marawi now start to question where the so-called “Marawi Siege” will lead and what will be the future of the people in the coming days.
“This is not simply on the Mautes and terrorism. There is something else growing in this war in Marawi,” Ibrahim said.
She also emphasized how difficult and painful for them to leave their abodes and see their communities completely destroyed by the ground and air assaults by the state forces.
Ibrahim said the Armed Forces of the Philippines is dependent on the US forces who are actively participating the war in Marawi as they provided the ground and air forces the necessary information and intelligence.
She added that Islamophobia has gone deep in the situation in Marawi which, if not averted, might lead to the complete loss of their place.
Recent developments have also suggested that the situation in Marawi goes beyond the war on terror. She said it is “an assertion of the US interests to the resources in the area.”
Aba added: “(President) Duterte opened to the USAID (US Agency for International Development) and other international aid agencies the Bangon Marawi Rehabilitation Program. These agencies are known for giving aid with strings attached.”
Aba also made a call for an investigation on the presence of US soldiers in Marawi and other parts of Mindanao and on the reported “AFP ownership” of more than half of the areas in Marawi City.
Such report on ownership now adds more fears to the residents of Marawi who for the past months have been languishing inside the various evacuation sites, he pointed out. (davaotoday.com)